Maximum Insecurity in Maximum Security

Written on behalf of Barrison Law
life imprisonment

“What happens when a maximum security facility produces maximum insecurity?” So begins a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court, in which an accused was acquitted on charges after he stabbed a fellow prisoner last year because the security in the jail was so terrible. The trial judge’s decision is notable for its condemnation of the lack of security at the Toronto East Detention Centre.

Michael Short was serving a robbery sentence at the facility when he was attacked by another inmate who was also a member of a rival gang while walking through a common area in the jail. Other inmates joined the fight and Mr. Short was able to ward off the assailants with a shiv made of ceramic which he had hidden in his sock.

The fight lasted for a long time before any Corrections Officers arrived to break it up with pepper spray. One of Mr. Short’s attackers was slashed across his back and another was cut several times and sustained a puncture wound.

The trial judge found that Mr. Short was justified in using force to defend himself in the circumstances: “There is nothing unreasonable abut Mr. Short using a weapon of his own to defend himself. The system put him in this situation, and the system cannot blame him for resorting to his own means of defence” [para 36].

The trial judge was critical of the Corrections Officers for not breaking up the fight sooner and for perpetuating unsafe conditions. The decision also criticizes the officers for failing to find any weapons after the fight when three inmates admitted on the stand that they were armed and that the facility is “rife with weapons of all varieties.”

Mr. Short was found not guilty of all charges.

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To read the full decision, click here.